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PA Self-Advocate Bill Krebs Featured on PBS News Hour
To honor the 30-year anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), PBS NewsHour recently aired a segment featuring the perspectives of self-advocates. Of the six self-advocates from across the country, Bill Krebs of Philadelphia offered his insight on how life has changed since the passing of the ADA and where we need continuous improvement as a country.
Bill currently serves as the Advocacy Coordinator for Keystone Human Services. He is deeply involved with advocacy groups across the commonwealth including Speaking For Ourselves. He is also a member of the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) Information Sharing and Advisory Committee (ISAC) where he assists ODP in leading policy and program initiatives.
In the interview with PBS NewsHour, Bill talks about his life before and after the 1990 signing of the ADA. Bill explains that before the ADA was passed, he was schooled in a segregated setting – students with disabilities had separate classes from students without disabilities. Bill goes on to describe the struggle for people with disabilities in finding competitive integrated employment.
Bill was in a sheltered workshop setting for a decade. He describes the first three years in the workshop as educational. “I learned how to dress, how to interact, how to punch a clock,” he goes on to joke, “I actually punched the clock. I knew what they were telling me to do, but I thought it would be funny.” Bill’s incredible sense of humor has led him to proudly assume the nickname “Mr. Trouble”.
Bill’s sheltered workshop experience took a turn 3 years in. He described the next 7 years as “living hell”. The sheltered workshop experience offered no end goal. “I asked if I could take a vacation. They said no. I asked how much sick leave I have and used that instead,” Krebs describes. Ultimately, Bill refused to sign the waiver that would continue his work with the sheltered workshop. That was his ticket out.
Bill had been raised to believe that there was “no future for someone with disabilities,” so when he left the workshop, he immediately corrected course by fighting for disability rights. Bill joined the Philadelphia-based self-advocacy group Speaking For Ourselves. Bill’s work with Speaking For Ourselves brought him to the ODP Everyday Lives Conference in the late nineties where he met ODP staff, Dana Olson.
Olson became a mentor to Bill. Bill was determined to learn the service system inside and out. He soon became the first self-advocate to be trained as a benefits counselor. This propelled his self-advocacy mission into a new realm. Bill soon became the Advocacy Coordinator for Keystone Human Services.
Bill has a fierce commitment to working with power structures to create substantial change. He realized early on that in order to achieve his goals, he needed to work from the top down. This tenacity led him to sit on President Obama’s advisory committee for people with disabilities.
Bill’s main goal is to show people with disabilities the possibilities for their future. After leaving the sheltered workshop, he remembers thinking he had nowhere to turn. He now advises other self-advocates on how to optimize their advocacy work by speaking out. “It’s like you’re a sponge. Trickle it out the knowledge and allow others to soak it up.”